Learning to cope with losing a loved one is difficult for everyone, especially children and teenagers. On October 18, Cancer Services hosted its annual Camp Erin®, the largest national bereavement program for youth who are grieving the death of a significant person in their lives.

Camp Erin is a free, weekend bereavement camp for youth who are grieving the death of a significant person in their lives. Children and teens ages 6 to 17 attend a weekend camp experience that combines grief education and emotional support with fun, traditional camp activities. Led by bereavement professionals and caring volunteers, campers are provided a safe environment to explore their grief, learn essential coping skills, and make friends with peers who are also grieving. Additional services are offered to support the whole family outside of the camp weekend. Through a network of partnerships with bereavement programs in local communities across the US and Canada, Camp Erin brings hope and healing to thousands of children and families annually and is offered at no cost to families.

Due to COVID-19, Camp Erin® looked a little different this year with the camp going virtual. Similar to this year’s Camp Care, camp-in-a-box kits were distributed to registered campers before the start of camp. Each kit included both grief activity materials and bonus supplies, such as s’mores kits, journals, crayons, bandanas, and wooden memory boxes.

Over the two-hour camp session, all 20 campers joined in live via Zoom to participate in age-specific grief activities, followed by guest speaker and grief advocate Laura Obier, Mrs. Louisiana International 2020, and ended with a traditional camp closing ceremony.

Grief activities included making paper chains, memory bracelets and a decorative bowl. We thank the graduate students from the LSU School of Social Work who guided camp participants.  Cancer Services social workers supervised and participated every step of the way. The exercises were designed to teach campers how to express their grief and normalize their feelings. As a special addition, campers received a QR code that a parent or guardian could scan by phone to gain access to the Camp Erin 2020 playlist, which is typically featured during the end of camp extravaganza party.

Despite camp being virtual this year, campers were still given the opportunity to memorialize their loved ones who died and bond over shared experiences both via video and using the online chat feature.

Even though they weren’t able to be together in person, the influence and importance of Camp Erin was just as prevalent.

“You’re not alone. We all share the same pain,” said one camper, age 11.

All campers and volunteers will be invited to attend the Camp Erin reunion in 2021. Cancer Services and the Eluna Network will continue to offer grief resources and support to campers in the months to come following the end of camp.

To learn more about all the Cancer Services camps, click here.